Appeals court rejects lawsuit by police officers against Mentor
CINCINNATI (AP) -- A federal appeals court on Tuesday rejected claims by three police officers that the city of Mentor fired them in retaliation for publicly criticizing the police chief.
Three judges of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously upheld a lower court's June 2003 ruling that the officers failed to support their claims against Mentor, its police chief, city manager and a current and former city council president. The officers also claimed in their lawsuit that Mentor's police chief and city manager conspired to violate their civil rights, and that the northeastern Ohio city's rules governing the conduct of police officers were an unconstitutional restraint on free speech.
The police chief recommended firing the officers, and the city manager agreed. Arbitrators upheld the firings of officers Steven Graham and Daniel Grein, but recommended reinstatement with back pay of the third officer, Timothy Baker, on grounds he had engaged in minor wrongdoing. Mentor complied with the arbitrators' conclusions.
The officers told reporters that police chief Richard Amiott had fixed tickets for friends, improperly taken compensatory time and had failed firearms tests on the shooting range.
But city officials said the officers harassed a bar owner who did not support the police union, forced a security guard to send a letter critical of Amiott to a newspaper and inappropriately obtained documents concerning voided tickets and Amiott's firearms training records.
Free speech has its limits, and a city has an interest in maintaining an effective police force free from internal division, appeals judges Eugene Siler Jr., Alice Batchelder and John Rogers said. The First Amendment does not necessarily protect speech that is intended by police officers to create division within their department, the judges said.
"Graham, Grein and Baker clearly intended to create division among the officers. The news articles and media coverage forced other officers to choose between the plaintiffs and their chief," Siler wrote for the court.
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